Interstellar Review

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This is what blockbusters should be

by Casimir Harlow Oct 31, 2014 at 12:58 PM

  • Movies review


    Interstellar Review

    Bold and audacious, Interstellar is another masterpiece from Christopher Nolan that depicts near-unattainable concepts like wormholes, relativity, and five-dimensional thinking with consummate skill.

    Without a doubt it's best to see this film blind: I managed to lalala my way through all the trailers attached to movies over the last few months, change channels when the TV spots came up and generally avoid the buzz for the most part. It's rare to do such a thing, but enables a completely fresh, untainted view, which I wholly recommend. Most folk have to know something about the movie they are going to see however, but Nolan's name alone should guaranteed seats booked for this future classic. It's a film you won't want to miss at the cinema, hopefully in all it's original 70mm (2.20:1) glory; even 70mm IMAX if you can find it.
    Certainly expectations have been tempered recently as the reviews start to come in, and it's important to note that this is far from a perfect work of art. What it earns, however, are perfect marks for ambition and originality. It demands to be watched, absorbed, and rewatched. In some ways failing to reach the giddy heights of his earlier masterpiece Inception in terms of pure grandstanding perfection but, in other ways, raising the bar. It delivers science fiction with a distinctly factual flavour; positing a palpably realistic future, and revelling in complex scientific concepts which most filmmakers eschew in favour of preserving audience sanity.

    Nolan takes a more documentary approach, which is evident right from the outset with video diary excerpts, delivered by elderly commentators who appear to be reflecting on past events. In his usual style, he doesn't pander to the ADD generation, throwing you into the thick of things where you have to pick up the pieces along the way and put them together in time to be able to follow the narrative.

    Nolan's vision of the future sees the world overpopulated and struggling to feed the masses; farming is the future, but even there a blight is infecting crops and leaving the extinction of the human race a very real possibility. Mankind has all but given up hope, and long given up dreams of pioneering exploration into space where, it seems, the only hope appears to be left.

    Matthew McConaughey's veteran space pilot has been making his living farming for years when he gets drafted into a daring mission to save the human race; drawn by an inexplicable series of signs which his daughter regards as being the work of some kind of poltergeist. Unable to countenance the signs with pure science, he nevertheless follows them and ends up on a mission to voyage to another galaxy through a wormhole which has appeared just beyond Saturn. He's not the first to have gone through the hole, and he's hoping to capitalise on the work done by those before him, but nothing can prepare him and his crew for what they encounter on the worlds beyond.

    In short: it's breathtaking.

    Surprisingly rough around the edges, and arguably dangerously long, Nolan has still undoubtedly crafted an epic blockbuster here. In the old, classic, sense of the word this is the kind of movie where you almost need an intermission; where you'll be glad to have packed supplies for your long voyage into space.

    If Gravity took us into the cold, unforgiving abyss of space, and Sunshine took us towards the unrelenting blast of the sun, Interstellar takes us way beyond both, to wormholes and space anomalies, ice planets and water planets and other dimensions. I suspect that it will be years - if ever - before any other filmmaker catches up with the work done here.

    It's the perfect sandbox for Nolan to play in, of course, with many of his original works dabbling in science 'fiction' concepts in a very factual way - from The Prestige to Inception - and with both Inception and Memento showing his affinity for messing with time in innovative ways. Here he gets the ultimate playground, exploring string theory and relativity with jaw-dropping on-screen results; bringing such highbrow concepts down to earth with very real set-pieces and sequences that blister with tension and leave you yearning to get to grips with some very elusive ideas.

    McConaughey has come a long way since his Hollywood heaththrob labelling a few years back, and drives the piece with a fantastic lead performance, not a million miles away from Clooney's cameo in Gravity in terms of wit and charm, but here given closer to three hours to breathe, develop and shine. Hathaway's hairstyle might surprise at first, but she soon settles in to give strong support, and Caine provides solid background work, whilst a surprise second act cameo gives way to some of the film's most tense and exciting moments.

    It's probably Mackenzie Foy, the young actress who plays the lead astronaut's daughter, however, who deserves the most praise - even more so than her elder counterpart, Jessica Chastain. The young girl gives the film an early and much-needed emotional core, which rings truer than some of the slightly more clumsy, heavy-handed verbal emotional blows delivered later on - seemingly for effect. Ironically a close second to this standout performance comes from the AI robot characters, who make a rather clumsy entrance only to dazzle later, both in terms of clever effects and razor-sharp wit. They'll earn the best laughs in a film which understandably provides precious little relief.

    If you thought Inception delivered some visionary set-pieces in terms of scale and ambition, then Interstellar will blow your mind.

    Ultimately Nolan's ambition frequently threatens to lose you along the way; often attempting to fill the gaps in his scientific theories with ideas of love (where faith might have been far more appropriate) and initially testing your patience in what is an undeniably long build-up to the actual mission itself. The organ-grinding score frequently overpowers the proceedings, (but gives it some quantifiable gravitas at the same time), and a couple of smaller performances don't quite ring true (I'm looking at you, Casey Affleck), and the grand scale that Nolan seeks to depict is so damn broad that it almost warrants TV mini-series exploration rather than an attempt to cram it into a mere 3 hours.

    Still, it's easily all worth it in the end - at least for those prepared to accept his The Abyss-like visions, which try to depict concepts which are, technically, impossible to depict, in ways that his characters (and thus the audience) can understand - and few are not going to be blown away by the ride. There will be no other film you've seen that is quite like this... Ever.

    If several of Nolan's features earn top scores in terms of sheer blockbuster perfection, then Interstellar doesn't technically reach this same standard, but for sheer bold, audacious, ambitious and original storytelling, nothing comes close. If you look past it's flaws then you'll likely see that this truly is a visionary work of frequently opulent majesty.

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